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A Sabbath-rest for the People of God


Blowing the Ram's Horn to Announce the Beginning of the Sabbath

The relationship of the follower of Jesus to the Law of Moses has always been a problem.

In the Time of Christ

When Jesus was on earth, the Jews resisted Him because they saw Him as a dangerous opponent of the Law, particularly the Law of the Sabbath. He frequently healed people on the Sabbath and ignored the Jewish traditions governing that Holy Day. This created more friction between Him and the Jewish leaders than any other

aspect of His work. The first mention of Jewish plots to kill Him came when He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:6).

In His ministry in Galilee, there were many other conflicts with the Jews over how He failed to observe the traditions of the elders regarding the Sabbath. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record two incidents: the disciples plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; & Luke 6:1-5) and the healing of the man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; & Luke 6:6-11). Luke adds two other miracles done on the Sabbath: a crippled woman healed in the synagogue (Luke 13:10-17) and a man with dropsy healed in the home “of a prominent Pharisee” (Luke 14:1-6).

In Jerusalem, opposition to Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath was even stronger. Jesus healed a cripple by the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. He told the man to take up his pallet and walk. The man did so. When the Jews saw him walking with his bed, they demanded to know why he was doing this. He replied that the man who healed him told him to do so, but he did not know who Jesus was. Then, because Jesus did this on the Sabbath, the Jerusalem Jews began to persecute Him (John 5:1-16). When Jesus returned to Jerusalem in John 7, this incident came up again (John 7:21-24). Because of what He had done on the Sabbath, they were actively trying to kill Him at that time (John 7:19-20, 25) and sent people to arrest Him (7:32). Those sent were unsuccessful because, they said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (7:46).

When Jesus healed a man born blind (John 9:1-41), it was on the Sabbath. The Jews tried every way possible to discredit this miracle. They first said it was not the same man but was some one who looked like him. Next, they suggested he had not really been blind – but his parents said they knew he was their son who was born blind, though they did not know how he could now see. When the man himself said it was Jesus who had healed him, the Jews responded, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16). A little later they said, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner” (v.24). Why did they say this? It was because Jesus did not observe the Sabbath as they thought He would observe it if He were from God. They let their view of the Sabbath cloud their view of what Jesus did practically in front of them. To them, His healing a man on the Sabbath was prima facie evidence He was a sinner and not from God.

In the Early Church

In the early church, there was a long-lasting dispute over the place of the Gentiles. The nub of the argument against the Gentiles is stated by the “Pharisees who believed” when they declared, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5). Though the Jerusalem Conference rejected their contention, this continued to be an issue that dogged Paul’s steps as many of the “Judaisers” followed him troubling the churches he established.

Many of Paul’s epistles focus, in part or in whole, on this matter. In Galatians, he lamented, “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Galatians 4:10-11).

He charged the Colossians:

Do not let any one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. – Colossians 2:16-17

The Law and its relationship to the gospel occupies a major part of other Pauline epistles as well. In fact, of all Paul’s public letters, only those to Macedonia (Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians) are free of discussion of the Law and the Gospel.

In the Present

Today, the tension between Law and Gospel is still present in the Church.

This tension takes two forms. One is the Sabbatarian Controversy. The other is an attempt to turn the Gospel into an “Updated Law of Moses” that has a better sacrifice for sins than the blood of bulls and goats. The two forms are similar in that both look at the Gospel as being insufficient for our salvation; a Law of some kind must accompany the Gospel for it to be effective.

Please allow me to be autobiographical. As a young minister, I encountered Sabbatarian groups of various persuasions. Each of them “made hay” of the claimed “fact” that “the pope changed the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week.” When people would talk about Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath,” these groups would strike confusion into the minds of those they sought to proselytize. As a result, I began to maintain there is no “Christian Sabbath,” that the Sabbath was completely a Jewish institution, and that Christian worship on the first day of the week bore no relationship to the Sabbath.

This gave me some success in “protecting” my flock from the predations of wolves, but it left me with an unrecognized problem.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11

This text clearly says there is still a “Sabbath-rest” or “a keeping of Sabbath” for God’s people and that we are to make every effort to enter it. I deflected the argument of the Sabbatarian by maintaining this is a reference to the “rest” of Heaven, but the problem remained.

The context emphatically speaks of “today,” and stresses that Israel was not able to enter into this “rest,” even though they had the sabbath of the seventh day. I was not prepared to think no Old Testament saints would be in Heaven, so over a period of time I became aware of this dilemma.

In my next post, I will show how I resolved this dilemma – and how the resolution also solves the problem of trying to make the Gospel into an updated “Law of Moses.”

March 16, 2010 – Part Two: The Dilemma Resolved

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2 Responses

  1. Question: Where can I find in the scriptures where God removed or altered the blessing and sanctification of the seventh-day sabbath? Thanks.

  2. You might begin by pondering Romans 14:1ff where Paul puts observance of days among “disputable matters” (NIV). You could then also consider the implications of Colossians 2:14.

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